Monday, February 23, 2009

When Doubts Arise - Death Penalty

I must admit that my initial doubts about the death penalty were the result of a movement in my spirit which I could not explain. I could not say that the death penalty was always wrong. All I could say was that I had my doubts.

I alluded to the changes in my spirit in another post, and I received such a thorough response from one reader that I realized that I couldn’t have a general doubt about it; I had to find out what the Church says.

The writer had quoted some important people, but I know it is possible to take almost anything out of context and make it support one’s position. And so, I went to the place I trust.

I knew it was time to find an encyclical that addressed the topic. It is appropriate for a faithful Catholic to go to a faithful Pope for direction, especially when that Holy Father is writing an encyclical. Isn’t that what we believe as Catholics? So, here are some things I have turned up so far:

From Evangelium Vitae Section 9 (Pope John Paul II quoting Holy Scripture)

And yet God, who is always merciful even when he punishes, "put a mark on Cain, lest any who came upon him should kill him" (Gen 4:15). He thus gave him a distinctive sign, not to condemn him to the hatred of others, but to protect and defend him from those wishing to kill him, even out of a desire to avenge Abel's death. Not even a murderer loses his personal dignity, and God himself pledges to guarantee this.

(St. Ambrose quoted in that same paragraph)

“God drove Cain out of his presence and sent him into exile far away from his native land, so that he passed from a life of human kindness to one which was more akin to the rude existence of a wild beast. God, who preferred the correction rather than the death of a sinner, did not desire that a homicide be punished by the exaction of another act of homicide.”

So, my doubts in the death penalty remain. I still cannot say that the death penalty is always wrong. But I do believe that it is almost never right. has posted this: The Catholic Church opposes the death penalty in nearly all cases. Pope Benedict XVI, Pope John Paul II, U.S. bishops and other Catholic leaders throughout the world have spoken out against capital punishment as act that stands in contradiction to the belief that all human life is sacred.

It is wonderful when something our spirit suspects is captured in words – and it is even better when those words come from a source we completely trust (an encyclical written by the Holy Father and supported by our bishops).

That said, how can anyone have doubts about the death penalty but continue to vote for a politician who supports abortion (or promises to keep abortion legal)? It seems like everyone, conservative and liberal, would have to acknowledge that the completely innocent deserve full protection under the law.

It is unlikely that the death penalty will end in the United States because, if it ever does come to an end, there will be no logical or rational argument left for taking the life of a completely innocent unborn baby.


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